RCMP officer did not shoot fleeing suspect in the head, Manitoba police watchdog determines

Allegations that an RCMP officer shot a suspect in the head following a pursuit in rural Manitoba three years ago have been dismissed by the province’s police watchdog.

The incident on Nov. 14, 2019, began with an alleged break-in and theft of several items from a home near St. François Xavier, Man. The homeowners, who were out of town, contacted police after they were alerted by their security system.

According to the RCMP, police located a vehicle containing the two suspects — a 27-year-old male driver and a 19-year-old female passenger — and pursued it into a farmer’s field until it crashed into an embankment near Highway 26.

The male suspect later told the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission that he was running away from the truck when one of the officers fired three shots.

“All together, the officer shot three times and the third shot hit me, it grazed the side of my head,” he said in a written statement on Jan. 7, 2020.

“That is when I went down and started going in and out of consciousness.”

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba says it attempted to meet with the man twice in the days following the incident, including one time when he declined to speak on the matter.

The IIU was alerted to his complaint on Feb. 6, 2020, leading to an investigation which involved reviewing officers’ notes, dispatch reports, GPS data for RCMP cruiser vehicles, audio recordings between RCMP members and telecoms, a traffic collision report, and a forensic identification report, along with photographs, medical reports, and interviews with the two affected persons, two civilians and three RCMP members. 

Investigators were able to speak over the phone with the male on June 10, 2020, while he was in custody at Milner Ridge Correctional Facility in Beausejour, Man.

The complainant alleged the female was “ripped” out of the vehicle by RCMP officers. He admitted to fleeing police after crashing the vehicle and reiterated his claim that the pursuing officer fired three shots without warning, one of which grazed the side of his head.

The male also alleged he was on the phone with his brother during the pursuit, and that his brother recorded the phone call, in which he claimed the sound of three gunshots could be heard.

Other suspect didn’t hear gunshots

The female suspect told investigators she did not run, and that police did not force her to the ground or lay hands on her.

She also said she did not hear any gunshots fired after the vehicle crashed, the report adds.

Two civilian witnesses, both of whom received calls from the male suspect — one phone call and another through Facebook — told the police watchdog they heard what sounded like three and two gunshots, respectively.

The witness on the other end of the Facebook call asked the complainant if he had been shot, the suspect said, “I don’t even know. I don’t remember anything.”

According to the IIU’s final report, two of the three Mounties drew their weapons, and the third unholstered his weapon, but they each told investigators they didn’t see or hear any gunshots fired. 

A 44-second Facebook recording the male suspect said supports his allegation of gunshots fired was taken to an independent audio production agency, but due its poor quality, it could not be determined if the recording had been manipulated.

Alleged gunshots didn’t match arrest timeline: IIU

Investigators concluded three loud bangs that resemble gunshot sounds were heard in the Facebook recording, but not in any of the 63 RCMP radio transmissions that were accessed in the investigation.

Investigators also determined that the bangs heard in the Facebook recording took place more than five minutes afer the two suspects were in custody.

In his final report, IIU civilian director Zane Tessler expressed his opinion that the bangs heard on the Facebook recording were “consistent with external sounds” captured by the person making the recording on their end of the call, and not associated with anything that happened at the crash scene.

The incident resulted in injuries to both individuals, the police watchdog announced in an October 2020 report.

Fractures to both arms were sustained by the female.The male suffered a cut to his forehead, which the collision analyst report confirmed after reviewing 19 photographs from the scene. There were two large dents on the windshield, consistent with both the driver and passenger hitting their heads on it, with the male having sustained a small cut to his right eyebrow and a significant cut to his temple above his ear.

In its final report, the IIU determined there to be no factual evidence to support the complainant’s allegations, including that either officer discharged their revolvers and that the suspect had sustained a grazing gunshot wound.

The IIU ruled all of the injuries sustained by both suspects were the result of the crash, and neither police officer caused or contributed to those injuries.

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